When was the true golden age of the Jedi? When were they truly their absolute coolest? With the latest Star Wars news, we may now finally have some answers, even if for some fans, all of this seems very familiar. With the unveiling of The High Republic, the Star Wars franchise is using an old trick to reboot canon: Release a bunch of books and comics under one umbrella project.
Will it work? What is the High Republic anyway? Here's what we know.
Back when the Star Wars prequel movies were first rolling out 1999, George Lucas promised we would see the Jedi in their prime. And, a few years before that, in 1993, the Dark Horse Tales of the Jedi series, set thousands of years before the films also promised to show the Jedi at the height of their powers. And now, with the unveiling of a new multi-platform Star Wars thingamabob — The High Republic — we're being told, yet again, that this is the real-deal best era for the Jedi. On Thursday, in a press statement about The High Republic, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said: "We’ll get to see the Jedi in their prime.”
Set 200 years before The Phantom Menace, books and comic books set in the new High Republic era will explore a time period of the Star Wars galaxy, hitherto unseen in the franchise before. Various legends stories — like Tales of Jedi or Knights of the Old Republic — were set thousands of years before the films, while the prequel era is only about 20-30 years before the classic trilogy.
With High Republic, Lucasfilm has carte blanche to do anything they want with these books, so none of these books and comics can possibly screw up any existing live-action projects. Outside of "teenage" Yoda and a younger Maz Kanata, familiar Star Wars characters and organizations will not appear. In fact, Lucasfilm is actually going out of their way to say The High Republic won't impact anything on TV or in the movie theaters.
Before you cry foul and point out that all Star Wars canon in connected, consider this statement from the Lucasfilm press release:
"This period on the Star Wars timeline will not overlap any of the films or series currently planned for production, giving creators and partners space to tell Star Wars stories in a never-before-explored timeline."
On the one hand, this reads like an exciting new Star Wars era getting rolled out, but on the other hand, it almost reads like a disclaimer. This Star Wars product may or may not be real Star Wars. Use at your own discretion. Lucasfilm cannot guarantee pure Star Wars satisfaction. This is an experiment.
The notion that Lucasfilm would go all in on a series interconnected Star Wars books is not remotely new. Back in 1996, Lucasfilm launched a collective effort called Shadows of the Empire, which, like The High Republic, existed in the form of comic books, a novel, toys, video games, and even an original score. Considering we've not been promised a High Republic video game or musical score, Shadows of the Empire still feels like a bigger deal in retrospect. Unlike this new era of storytelling, those books and comics had Luke and Leia.
But in the '90s, Star Wars books and interlinked stories existing only in print was the norm. There weren't any movies or TV shows in development. We didn't have a 24-hour news cycle of cool new Star Wars stuff happening. The books and comics were it. So now, with The High Republic, Lucasfilm is trying to make the idea of doing Star Wars stuff exclusively in print a novelty again. Right now, we have no idea how this is going to shake out. In the press conference trailer (which you can watch above) the Jedi of this era are described as being like "Knights of the Round Table" but also, at another point, as "Texas Rangers" patrolling the frontier.
These slightly more comfortable Jedi won't be fighting an evil Empire, but dealing with "space Vikings" called the Nihil. From the concept art, this sort of sounds like the Nihil will be like those raiders we saw in The Mandalorian, but somehow much worse.
There's also a tease at the end of the trailer, where someone asks "What scares the Jedi?" The answer is some sort of monstrous alien creatures from beyond, which honestly, look a lot like the Yuuzhan Vong from the old Legends-era, post-Return of the Jedi books. All of this is exciting, but will this books-only new Star Wars era have mainstream appeal – like Shadows of the Empire did — or will it only appeal to hardcore fans?
Right now, Star Wars has arguably never had better people writing tie-in books and comics. Claudia Grey and Daniel José Older are excellent novelists outside of the Star Wars book canon. If you're already going to read every single Star Wars book that comes out, then The High Republic is good news, if a little strange. Right now, nearly everything we know about this new series is specifically connected to the era and not necessarily any specific characters. One of the strengths of The Mandalorian is that even if a casual viewer doesn't understand where it happens in the Star Wars timeline, they can still love it. (Proof: how many people don't understand that Baby Yoda is not actually Yoda? I rest my case.)
The point is, right now The High Republic could go either way in terms of being welcoming to a new Star Wars reader. A new reader doesn't have to know anything to get into this series. But that lightsaber slices the other way, too: If there's nothing familiar about this series other than a bunch of Jedi (who we will never see on TV or in the films) then there's not much of an anchor outside of this simply being called "Star Wars."
Despite the franchise's prior success in books, Star Wars is a visual medium. By setting an era entirely in print, the franchise isn't really taking a risk, but for some chunk of the fans, it won't scan as legit unless there's a TV or movie component at some point. But then again, Lucasfilm knows that making a big deal about a lot of interconnected Star Wars books has worked in the past, so if these books are good, it will work again.
The first High Republic book debuts in August 2020.